Where do I Start with Matt Fraction Comics?

New readers come to comics all the time – but comics have been going for decades and decades now, and it can be really confusing to work out a good place to start from. When I first starting reading comics, it was with a mixture of Wikipedia, Ebay and the ComicBookResources forums that I worked out which character was which, what trades I should buy, and which comics were the good comics.
Matt Fraction is one of the biggest names in comics now. He’s simultaneously writing acclaimed work for hire and creator-owned projects, at a number of different publishers. His writing is smart, funny, and inviting. But where should you start with it? Looking at his most recent work and then heading slowly back through his career, here’s a guide to where to start with Matt Fraction comics…

CURRENT:



Hawkeye / Sex Criminals
With David Aja, Annie Wu et al/Chip Zdarsky

Now seen as one of the more dynamic writers in the current comics community, Fraction is best known for his work reinventing Hawkeye, the Avenger nobody liked in the movie. Paired with artist David Aja, colorist Matt Hollingsworth and letterer Chris Eliopoulos, the creative team have taken the idea of the outcast ‘human’ avenger and turned him into an engaging, flawed hero. Living in a slightly run-down apartment and prone to making poor decisions, Fraction’s last few years writing superhero comics have prepared him perfectly for an off-centre take on the life of an Avenger.

It’s arguable that Fraction has struggled with writing perfect superheroes, as his Marvel work has seen some good work but also several misfires, like Uncanny X-Men, Mighty Thor, and Fantastic Four. The more removed he is from the ability to write off-note characters – the more he’s asked to write straightforward stories – the more his stories seem to suffer as a result.

His second big ongoing title (he has a third, Satellite Sam, which I would not recommend) is Sex Criminals, with artist Chip Zdarsky. With a high concept which lets him delve into issues of sexuality and femininity, the series has been very highly acclaimed and a big seller for Image, who publish it. The creative team are obviously enjoying themselves, writing into corners and then jumping out of them at regular intervals. It’s certainly not an all-ages title, but it’s a funny, well-processed comic.

ONE STEP BACK



Immortal Iron Fist 
with Ed Brubaker, David Aja, Travel Foreman et al

If you were to head backwards through his work as a writer, you’d be advised to skip the superhero comics I mentioned above. Although there are good comics scattered throughout his tenure with Marvel, Fraction’s best work at the company jumps back a few years to his run with Ed Brubaker, Travel Foreman and David Aja on Immortal Iron Fist. The Brubaker/Fraction run, despite being highly acclaimed, is actually a surprisingly short one – you can read the main story in two trades, total. There’s a third Iron Fist trade too, but that collected side-stories and one-shots from the run – it’s fun but not essential to the main story.

The writers introduce backstory and characters to the World of Iron Fist. Although his origin is fairly simple, it wasn’t until this run that readers got a chance to see the past wielders of the Iron Fist motif, and the other worlds which circle around Danny Rand’s spiritual home of Kun’ Lun. Building things up with an excellent first arc, things pick up further when the team set Rand into the middle of a tournament of champions – a tournament which doesn’t go in anything resembling the direction you might expect.

Immortal Iron Fist hits several key points in Fraction’s early career at Marvel – it has him working with frequent collaborators Brubaker, Aja, Howard Chaykin and more, and it also brings in some of the themes that worked their ways into many other characters he wrote at the company. Danny Rand becomes an eco-friendly philanthropist by the end of the series, a turn which Tony Stark and Scott Summers would also take once Fraction took over writing them, too.


TWO STEPS BACK


Casanova
With Gabriel Ba

But if you really want a full-on dose of Fraction characterisation, then you head to Casanova. Star of three graphic novels thus far – and a fourth is on the way – Casanova Quinn is where Fraction really made his mark on comics, and I believe is the work which got him noticed by Marvel in the first place.

Slightly incomprehensible, but in a fun “it’s all part of comics!” style, Casanova tells a story of multiple timelines and different realities, all of which are marked by one thing: the presence of Casanova Quinn, a rogue agent who keeps getting swept into double, triple, and quadruple secret agenting.

Another shifting constant is the artistic team: Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, which switch up between each volume of the series. Massively ambitious but carefree about whether it manages to hit those ambitions, this is a freewheeling, impressive, and silly series, packed with throwaway ideas that could power an entire series by themself.

The first two volumes were published by Image, before the third went to Marvel’s Icon imprint. Part four is set for later this year, and will be returning to Image. Fraction intends for seven volumes in total.

THREE STEPS BACK

Five Fists of Science
With Steven Sanders

First off – the Steven Sanders Rule is in effect. The Steven Sanders Rule isn’t particularly a rule, though, more a “Steven Sanders drew this! BUY NOW!” sort of deal.

Secondly – here’s Matt Fraction having some early steampunk fun, for a series published around the same time as the first Casanova comic started coming out. You can sense in this book the influence of Warren Ellis – whose forum provided many comic-makers a chance to meet – especially in the way science is made all-important for the story. The characters are full of bizarre one-liners which seem destined to one day re-emerge and take over Tumblr, and the story is a hotchpotch piece of weirdness which I won’t spoil here.

Taking Tesla, Einstein and von Suttner as the three lead characters, the book was nominated for an Eagle Award, and is a fascinating look at some of Fraction’s first published comics writing. It’s a little rough, but that plays a big part in its peculiar charm.

BEYOND

If you want to go further, having liked any of the above – here are some next steps you could try.

The Order – one of his first big assignments for Marvel was this, a team book set in LA with artist Barry Kitson. Published during a time where Marvel would try any good new idea that was pitched to them, it’s a book which marked Fraction’s statement of intent regarding his work-for-hire books as a whole. And it’s one of his best.

FF – recently concluded, Fraction was in charge of both Fantastic Four and the spin-off series FF. Of the two, I’d recommend largely skipping Fantastic Four, but instead jumping straight into FF. A manic school-turned-family dynamic is joined with artist Mike Allred’s unique sensibilities for the most Matt Fraction-y comic ever published by Marvel. There’s heart in this book, perhaps his warmest work to date.

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